Friday, January 16 2004
A new Marist poll released yesterday shows Hillary Clinton's job approval rating at 55%, up 6 points since last September. But it hasn't translated into better reelect numbers for her: in head-to-head match ups she's slid back into a tie with George Pataki and still trails Rudy by 5 points.

Theoretically, Hillary could retire from the Senate in 2006 and move right into Presidential campaign mode, setting up an organization and raising money for '08. The more likely scenario is that she runs again and uses a solid reelection victory as a springboard to her 2008 Presidential campaign.

But standing for reelection always carries risks. A loss in '06 would drive a stake through the heart of Mrs. Clinton's ambitions for a return trip to the White House. It's hard to imagine anyone emerging with a better shot of being a Hillary killer in '06 than Rudy.

RATING BUSH: Gallup reports President Bush finished 2003 with an average job approval rating of 59.7% which they say is, by historical standards, pretty average.

BRAUN APPLIES FOR POLITICAL WELFARE: John points out that I didn't do a good enough job yesterday of ridiculing Carol Moseley-Braun's announcement that she's dropping out of the race. He's right.

For the last year she has been milking publicity out of a campaign with zero credibility and zero chance of winning. Less than a week before the first votes are cast - more specifically less than a week before Democratic primary voters have a chance to officially render judgment on her candidacy - she abandons ship and throws her support behind the current frontrunner.

It's a pathetic suck-up for a future job. If she's lucky, maybe she can land another irrelevant ambassadorship (no offense to anybody reading in New Zealand) or maybe she hits the jackpot with a low level cabinet position for which she isn't remotely qualified when Dean goes looking to "diversify" his administration. And the mind absolutely reels at the thought (which Miles O'Brien voiced to Judy Woodruff yesterday) that Dean might actually choose Braun as his running mate if he becomes the nominee.

Is this kind of thing common in politics? Yes. So am I being too harsh on Braun? I don't think so. In many ways Carol Moseley-Braun is the least admirable of the fringe candidates running for President. For years she's traded politically on the color of her skin and her sex rather than any sort of record of accomplishment.

After spending six years in the Senate Moseley-Braun left that august body most well known not for a piece of legislation but for a private 1996 trip to the home of Nigerian strongman Sani Abacha with her ex-fiance Kgosie Matthews, who also happened to be a former lobbyist for Nigeria. Braun has also been dogged by a number of other scandals dating all the way back to her time as Recorder of Deeds for Cook County.

In the final analysis, Braun's maneuver is understandable. Right now lining up for political patronage is the best - and perhaps only - way for her to stay in public life. She's simply not electable on her own.

But even if she doesn't get the political hand out she's looking for this year, her run for president may help put a new gloss on her past and make her electable somewhere, sometime, for something in the future. - T. Bevan 10:45 am | Link | Email

Thursday, January 15 2004
Carol Moseley-Braun is out, and she's going to endorse Dean. Is this a big deal? Not really. As we've said before, endorsements like this are generally overrated and Braun wasn't much of a player in the first place.

DEAN'S RACE: But Braun's endorsement does bring up an interesting point. Conventional wisdom says it should help boost Dean's standing among African-Americans and help repair the damage caused by Al Sharpton's attack on Dean's racial record in the Black and Brown debate last week.

But just how much damage did Sharpton's widely publicized attacks do to Dean? The answer looks like "not much." Two days ago Dean won the DC primary with 42% of the vote from a predominantly African-American population. And this article from The State yesterday suggests that Dean is "likely to get a pass from South Carolina voters" on the issue of race.

Still, Dean's whitebread image and his bona fides on race could be a problem. After all, this is a candidate who suggests to voters that his deep understanding racial matters and commitment to diversity came from having two black roommates his freshman year in college.

Speaking of which, the Atlanta Journal Constitution carries a profile of one Dean's black roommates, Don Roman, in the paper this morning. Even though Roman is a big Dean supporter now and doesn't mind being touted as one of the prime assets in Dean's racial portfolio, it turns out he was surprised to learn that his falling in with Dean as a freshman at Yale wasn't a random occurrence:

Dean's interest in race relations brought the two young men together -- but Roman didn't know that when they met as Yale freshmen in 1967.

In the midst of the civil rights movement of the '60s, Dean -- son of a Wall Street securities broker with a home on Park Avenue -- saw an opportunity to broaden his horizons and requested a black roommate.

He was placed in a four-person suite, with two of his roommates being African-American, one of them Ralph Dawson of Charleston, S.C., now a New York labor lawyer who, like Roman, has become active in the Dean campaign. Roman grew up in Memphis, raised by a single mother who died when he was 12.

Roman learned only recently of Dean's request for a black roommate. Knowing that during their freshman year "would have been the kiss of death," said Roman, not wanting to be "some white liberal's" social experiment.

It's an interesting paradox. White liberals will look at this story and praise Dean for proactively "broadening his horizons" but I suspect many blacks will view it - as Roman apparently does now - as an act of superior condescension.

Despite Dean's considerable rhetorical skills and his ability to connect with an audience, if he ends up winning the nomination he may need more help and more surrogates among the African-American community than any other candidate.

FUN WITH JFK: Yesterday in Iowa John "F." Kerry vowed to "break the grip" of special interests in Washington D.C. Kerry implored the crowd:

"I ask you to join this fight - not just to defeat George Bush, but to drive the forces of greed and privilege from the precincts and pinnacles of power, and make America work again for the people who are the heart and strength of our country."

Gee, that's funny. On the same day, over in this other paper that only Beltway types read, the headline is: Kerry Raps K Street, But Senator Cozy With Lobbyists, Too:

"During his Senate career, Kerry has helped special interests, even against the apparent interests of his own constituents. This helped cement ties with lobbyists who donated thousands of dollars to his campaign."

I just love Presidential primary season, don't you?. - T. Bevan 8:29am | Link | Email

Wednesday January 14, 2004
Looks like Dean's a unilateralist after all:

"Since it is clearly no longer possible to take action in conjunction with NATO and the United Nations, I have reluctantly concluded that we must take unilateral action."

Who knew? Robert Tagorda has some questions for the Governor.

THE INTERVIEW: I haven't read it yet, but here it is: Howie in Rolling Stone.

THE PRIMARY: The crushing suspense of the DC primary is finally over.

REVISITING ONE HEAD OF THE MONSTER: A postscript to yesterday's entry on the two-headed monster. Here's Rich Lowry in National Review:

Clark isn't much of a substantive or tonal alternative to the former Vermont governor. He's just Dean with medals. If anything, Clark is more outrageous than the front-runner, routinely questioning President Bush's patriotism.

Flash to this morning's Manchester Union-Leader (reg. req'd):

Clark wants congressional probe of Iraq war decision
Senior Political Reporter
MANCHESTER — Democratic Presidential hopeful Wesley Clark yesterday called for a congressional probe of the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq.

Clark said the nation is no safer now than it was before the war was launched because President George W. Bush “neglected the North Korean nuclear program” and neglected “to go after Osama bin Laden.”

The retired four-star general was asked if he, as President, would launch or demand a probe of the Bush administration decision.

“I don’t think we can wait for this election to begin a probe,” he said. “We have to demand that probe now . . . (while) we don’t know what other tricks the administration might have up its sleeve to pursue its original design, whatever that was, for the Middle East.”

Bush "neglected" North Korea and Osama? Congressional probe? "Tricks" up the sleeve? This is straight out of the fever swamp.....

PLAYING PRESIDENT: Amusing story in the Des Moines Register. Martin Sheen says of Dean, ""He's the real Bartlet."

BEING PRESIDENT: Dean's got Sheen, but Bush has Miller:

"I have said and strongly believe that the next five years will be crucial for the America my children and grandchildren will inherit. I want a commander in chief like George Bush. I want a man who doesn't suffer from analysis paralysis."

I'd be willing to bet you'll see Zell Miller speaking at the Republican National Convention this fall.

THE GOLDEN STATE : Bush approval rating rises just enough to have Rove & Co. wondering if it's possible. Don't get distracted boys, it isn't (at least not yet). - T. Bevan 7:26 am | Link | Email

Tuesday January 13, 2004
A TWO-HEADED MONSTER TAKES SHAPE: Michael Crichton said in a speech recently that "speculation is a complete waste of time." He's right, of course, but that's not going to stop me from speculating on the circus that is the current Dem presidential race. Plus, I'll be referencing some highly accurate and predictive polling data to give my speculations more, um, "gravitas."

To wit, a new CNN/Gallup/USA Today national poll out this morning shows Dean and Clark separating themselves from the rest of the pack. Absolutely worthless, I know. BUT, we were also treated to a couple of new SUSA polls last night showing Clark starting to eat Dean's dust in New Hampshire (I mean that in a positive way - up until now Clark has been so far behind he couldn't even see Dean's dust) and also taking a surprising 7-point lead in Arizona. I've already mentioned Clark's decent standing in a number of critical post-New Hampshire states like South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee as well as some March 9 primary states like Texas and Florida.

Clark is clearly on the verge of eclipsing the rest of the field as the anti-Dean option. So much so that he's starting to take direct fire from fellow candidates, most notably John Kerry who sent Jeanne Shaheen out yesterday in Manchester with guns blazing:

"I just don't think someone who raised money for Republicans, praised George W. Bush after he had begun his systematic reversal of Bill Clinton's policies, and who as recently as this past summer refused to rule out running for president as a Republican should be the Democratic nominee for president."

Meanwhile, Dean said yesterday he's "tired of being a pincushion" and is fighting to hold on to a victory in Iowa, something that's becoming more and more critical for him given the expectation game.

Assuming the next few weeks do produce a Dean-Clark cage match, it should be quite a spectacle. Let's look at the tale of the tape:

September 11/Terrorism/War in Iraq
Dean Says:
1) We're no safer against terrorist attack since 9/11.
2) America is no safer since the capture of Saddam Hussein.
3) We needed "permission" from the United Nations to attack Iraq.
Clark Says:
1) He would have already captured Osama bin Laden if he were President
2) He can guarantee with 100% certainty there won't be any future attacks on U.S. soil while he's in office.
3) In October 2002 that "certainly there's a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda" but argues now that "there was no imminent threat from Iraq, nor was Iraq connected with Al Qaeda."

Conspiracy Theories
Clark Says:
1)There was "some kind of a memo or something" in the Pentagon that he never saw laying out plans to invade seven Middle Eastern countries. Clark says to get an idea of what the "neocons" are planning you need to "listen to the gossip around Washington."
2) Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld leaked his own memo (the infamous "long hard slog" memo) to the press. Asked for proof of the allegation, Clark cited "general Beltway gossip."
3) In the aftermath of September 11 he a received a phone call from "the White House" and/or "people around the White House" and/or "people who had—Middle East think tanks and people like this" pressuring him to say that Saddam Hussein was connected to the terrorist attack.
Dean Says:
It's possible Bush was warned about 9/11 ahead of time by the Saudis.

Military Record
Dean Says:
He didn't serve in the military because of a bad back but suggests to the Quad City Times editorial board that his brother was in the military (he wasn't).
Clark Says:
He has no idea why Hugh Shelton told an audience that his colleague has "integrity and character issues." When asked by Tim Russert last June why he was forced to step down as Supreme Allied Commander Clark says in the same sentence that he was "given a number of reasons" for his dismissal but that "the honest answer is that I don't know."

Clark Says:
It's a woman's Constitutional right to have an abortion right up until the very second the fetus' head is exiting the womb with no restrictions or qualifications.
Dean Says:
It's "none of the government's business" and calls the concept of partial birth abortion "nonsense." Dean got a good "yuk" out of the crowd at a NARAL Pro-Choice America dinner last year when he told them that "Vermont is the promised land for you folks." The former doctor went on to explain his opposition to parental notification by telling the story of a 12-year old female patient of his impregnated by her father - a story we later learned on Meet the Press that Dean knew was false when he told it.

There's plenty more floating around from these two surreal candidates running for the highest office in the land, but I'm afraid that's about all I can muster right now. If you know of anything I'm missing, send me an email titled "Two Headed Monster" and I'll try to put them up.

BONUS QUOTE: I can't resist. Tucked neatly into the end of the 9th graf of this rather dramatic LA Times profile of Dean's ascendance to the Governorship of Vermont is this "Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman high-five slapping" quote:

In four years as a legislator, Dean was reliably liberal, recalled Paul Poirier, then a Democratic House leader and later one of Dean's transition officials.

"Howard voted for every increase in spending we pushed for," said Poirier, now a mental health lobbyist.

As if they need any more.

POP QUIZ: Question: What do Democrats Jim McGreevey, Ed Rendell, John Street, Barbara Hafer, and Bob Casey have in common? Answer: Robert Feldman, entrepreneur and heavyweight political fundraiser who recently got slapped with a subpoena "seeking documents related to his dealings with lawyer Ronald A. White, a Street backer who is at the center of a federal probe into City Hall corruption." Hard to say where the probe is going at this point, but it's never a good sign when your star moneyman has to start talking to the Feds.
CLARIFICATION: I've gotten couple of emails saying Hafer is a Republican - and a liberal one at that. It's true she was a long-time member of the GOP, but late last year she switched her affiliation back to Democrat to set up a run against Rick Santorum. I say "back to Democrat" because she originally was a Democrat but was recruited into the GOP in 1975. That's right, a she's a double-switcher.

O'NEILL-A-THON: If you haven't seen Powerline's demolition of the O'Neill/Suskind documents you need to take a look. Drezner and Bartlett deconstruct O'Neill as well and - no big surprise here - Krugman jumps on the O'Neill vindication bandwagon. - T. Bevan 12:45 pm | Link | Email

Monday January 12, 2004
A couple quick programming notes before we get started. First, you may notice we've taken down our "news coverage" page. Frankly, we've struggled with it for a long time. Most people don't visit our site for hard news and while we've always thought it was important to have a few of the top non-political stories on the site every day, we felt it was time to reallocate our resources to cover more political news - which is what most people really want from us anyway. Hence, if you visit our "Political Races" page this morning you'll find a new, improved, more robust version that should contain just about every political news story you'd possibly want.

Second, we've also revamped and updated the "Talk Show Opinion" page with transcripts from yesterday's shows. We'll be updating this page every Monday morning and may also put up a transcript or two during the week from one of the nightly talk shows if somebody says something interesting.

Lastly, advertising. It's an important part of what we do, so please click through and visit our advertisers whenever you can. If everyone can make it a habit to click on an ad or two every time they visit, it will go a long way toward helping us pay the bills.

THE TEMPORARY WORKER PROGRAM: What can you say? It's an incredibly complex issue with no easy answers. In an ideal world, of course, we don't want to be providing any rewards or incentives to those who break our immigration laws. But we don't live in an ideal world. Our immigration system has been a mess for decades.

The reality is we have 8-12 million people in the country who broke our laws to come here and work. So what do we do with them now?

One side proposes blanket amnesty, in effect bestowing full citizenship on all those now in America. This is totally unacceptable to the public and would cause a worldwide rush of people trying to make their way into America.

The other side proposes rounding up all illegals and deporting them, enforcing the rule of law right down to its letter. Even if this were a practical possibility - which it isn't - the result would be an economic depression. That's simply too high a price for the country to pay to rectify today a problem that's been more than 30 years in the making.

President Bush has obviously tried to follow a middle course that attempts to deal with the issue in a pragmatic way without throwing principles completely out the window. I beg to differ with those who think this is a complete and total election year pander by the President. Given the volatility and the emotions surrounding the issue, especially among the conservative base, I'm honestly surprised he touched it.

Even though a guest worker program is favored by 7 out of 10 Latinos, there's a very real possibility this plan ends up costing the President a significant number of votes around the country.

I'd characterize my position on the program as "qualified support." My biggest complaint is that Bush's plan comes with little or no concrete proposals for reforming the current immigration system. I hate to sound like the biggest Mark Steyn suck-up on the planet, but he nailed it again in his Sun-Times column yesterday:

So which of the remaining options is the least worst? To leave a population 20 times bigger than that of Dean's Vermont living in the shadows, knowing that those shadows provide cover for all sorts of murky activities -- from fake IDs for terrorists to election fraud. Or to shrug ''They're here, they're clear, get used to it,'' and ensnare them, like lawful citizens, within the coils of the bureaucracy.

The president has opted for the latter option. A pragmatic conservative could support that, but only if the move was accompanied by a determination to address the ''root cause'': the inertia and incompetence of America's immigration bureaucracy. But there's no indication in the president's remarks that he's prepared to get serious about that.

The President paid lip service to reforming the INS in his speech, but we're talking about a massive bureaucracy suffering from systemic failure and an inability to perform many of its primary functions. In a special series on illegal immigrants in 2001 (very much worth reading by the way), the Arizona Republic reported:

• The Immigration and Naturalization Service, which is charged with deporting undocumented workers and punishing businesses that hire them, does neither, except near the Mexican border. Under political pressure from employers, advocacy groups and politicians, the agency has not penalized an Arizona company for hiring illegal immigrants in 19 months.

Furthermore, despite significant increases in federal funding, the INS and the Border Patrol have basically failed to decrease the flow of illegal immigrants into the country.

Moving the INS under the purview of the DHS and putting in some new computer software isn't good enough. Nothing short of a massive, sustained effort at reform - either through a blue-ribbon commission or flat out demolishing the INS and building something new from scratch - is what's required. There's no indication the Bush administration is going to do this, or that it's even a political possibility if they wanted to.
UPDATE: The House Republican Study Committee has put together a list of statements from House Republicans supporting and opposing the President's proposal. Here they are:

Supporting: Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT), Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN)

Opposed: Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK), Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA), Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK), Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO, House Immigration Reform Caucus Chairman)

REVISITING TOTALIZATION: Another aspect of the President's plan causing a huge debate is "totalization," which is something I've talked about before.

On one hand you have Ruben Navarrette, who explains the plan this way:

And here's something really revolutionary. According to the administration, Bush is intent on making it possible for illegal immigrants to collect some of the billions of dollars in Social Security taxes that they pay into the system each year but have never been able to collect because they use phony Social Security cards. Under the Bush plan, the workers may have to return to Mexico to receive their benefits. Still, this is an amazing gesture. It's also the right thing to do. This is the immigrants' money. They earned it, and they have a right to claim it someday.

On the other extreme you have people like Michelle Malkin:

The bureaucrats call this scheme "totalization." Try total prostration. The proposed agreement is nothing more than a transfer of wealth from those who play by the rules to those who willingly and knowingly mock our own immigration and tax laws. What are we doing promising lifetime Social Security paychecks to day laborers in Juarez when we can't even guarantee those benefits to workers here at home?
Unbelievably, the White House is trying to convince us to embrace this global ripoff because it "rewards work." No, it rewards criminal behavior. The plan will siphon off the hard-earned tax dollars of American workers who may never see a dime of their confiscated earnings and fork it over to foreigners guilty of at least four acts of federal law-breaking: crossing the border illegally, working illegally, engaging in tax fraud and using bogus documents.

Both Navarrette and Malkin are wrong. According to Social Security experts David C. John and Stephen Johnson of the Heritage Foundation - hardly a bastion of lefty thought - totalization is neither new nor radical:

Despite sensational press reports, totalization is nothing more than a negotiated agreement between two nations that allows their respective Social Security programs to better serve workers from one nation who are employed in the other during part of their careers. The United States already has similar agreements with nearly 20 other nations, including most of Western Europe, Australia, Chile, and South Korea. The agreement with Mexico differs only in that it would affect more people: While the 20 existing agreements affect a total of approximately 100,000 workers, the Mexican agreement would affect nearly 165,000 in the first five years alone.

Such agreements make it easier for aliens who lived in the United States and paid American Social Security taxes for at least 10 years, as well as Americans who have worked overseas and paid Social Security taxes to another nation, to draw their benefits. The proposed agreement would allow citizens from either nation who worked in both countries to receive credit for their entire career from the country that eventually pays their benefits. Thus, an American worker who worked in the United States for 25 years and in Mexico for 15 years, paying Social Security taxes to the country of employment, could receive American retirement benefits based on a combined 40-year work history. The U.S.-Mexico agreement would also eliminate an American requirement that the survivors of a Mexican worker who earned and received U.S. Social Security benefits must come to the United States every year to prove that they still qualify for survivors benefits.

The only reason totalization with Mexico is such a hot button is because of the numbers of people involved. We've had millions of undocumented workers paying into the Social Security system for years under fraudulent numbers and receiving no benefits.

I'm no expert, but a program that provides migrant workers the opportunity to pay into the Social Security system on an aboveboard basis and receive the benefits they will be due (as well as vice-versa for Americans workers in Mexico) doesn't seem unreasonable. And it hardly qualifies - as Malkin writes - as "treachery." - T. Bevan 10:44 am | Link | Email

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Archives - 2004
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Archives - 2003
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Archives - 2002
12/23-12/29 | 12/16-12/22 | 12/9-12/15 | 12/2-12/8 | 11/25-12/1 | 11/18-11/24 | 11/11-11/17 | 11/4-11/10 | 10/28-11/3 | 10/21-10/27 | 10/14 -10/20 | 10/7-10/13 | 9/30-10/6 | 9/23 -9/29 | 9/16-9/22